For working parents, balancing the pursuit of career goals and the requirements of family life can be challenging. Many jobs require employees to travel, either for the day or for extended periods of time, and parents often have more to think about before they go than just packing their briefcase. Calendars need to be consulted, and arrangements must be made to cover their absence. Friends, family and carers are often called upon to step in and help with childcare and manage the children’s activities while a parent is away.
Every family is different, with different ways of organising and coping. We spoke with seven sets of parents who are managing the juggle and are happy to share their stories.
Once a week travel
Trina Meddings, Director of Seamless Communication in Melbourne, is away from home one night every week, and the secret to her success is preparation. “It’s all in the planning,” she says, and concedes that this is also the secret to having two parents in a family working full-time.
Each week, Trina sets time aside for school notices and ironing of school uniforms so that “everything runs as smoothly as possible.” Her two children, 11 and seven, have swimming lessons on the night she works interstate so she packs their bags and lays out the school uniforms for the days she won’t be present. Trina leaves home at 4.45AM and ensures that she’s packed the children’s lunches before she goes.
Trina’s husband, Dale, also travels for work, and has done since before they had a family. When he has to be away, Trina’s employer is flexible and she works from home, in order to care for her family.
Occasional, week-long travel
Dionne Taylor, founder of Polkadot Communications and the new media app Storymatch, has two children, nine and five, and travels five times a year, usually for a week or two at a time. She and her husband, Danny, both own their own businesses so they encourage each other to make work a priority when necessary.
Despite the domestic tasks involved in parenting being shared 50/50 between Dionne and her husband when she’s at home in Sydney, Dionne admits that she “goes into full Swiss army prep mode” before a work trip. She prepares a roster and prints out the children’s timetables for each day. She prepares and freezes meals, stocks the fridge and remains in daily contact with Danny about domestic and family issues.
Both parents take long trips
Anna Borradale, an education sales and marketing manager, and her husband, Adrian, both travel for work. Their schedules rarely clash because the couple plan carefully. Anna says that the use of a shared Google calendar is critical. “If it’s not in there, it’s not happening.” She enters the details about all the children’s activities into the calendar, with notes about what they need to take to each event. This way, anyone can look and see what is required.
When their children were smaller, Anna would hide gifts for the children to find while she was away, especially if she was on a long trip. “If I noticed that someone was feeling a bit upset, I’d tell them to go to the third drawer down in my bedside table and find the treat I’d bought for them.”
Both parents travel regularly
Dr Chris Berg, a Senior Research Fellow at RMIT University Blockchain Innovation Hub, and his wife Dr Bronwyn Hinz, have a ‘pack and go’ approach to their work-related travel. Both in their thirties and at pivotal moments in their careers and family life, they both travel at least once a month, leaving their children, eight and five, at home in Melbourne with the other parent. Whoever is at home takes over the mental load, as well as physical load, of caring for the children.
Chris and Bronwyn coordinate the logistics in their diaries. They’ve always used technology to stay in touch and communicate with their family multiple times a day. Due to the intimate nature of video conferencing apps, they’re able to engage meaningfully with their children, no matter where they are. “The children don’t feel deprived of their parental time,” says Chris.
Kids with sporting commitments
Samuel Thomas, a government employee, lives in Melbourne’s north but often has to travel to advise on policy issues for developing countries or to attend meetings in Canberra and around Australia. His two sons, now teenagers, have always had extensive sporting commitments that occupy almost every afternoon and evening during the school week.
To make the load lighter for his wife, Angela, Samuel spends Sundays cooking and freezing meals for the ‘hard’ nights during the week when he knows he won’t be home to help. There is a freezer in their house which is dedicated to frozen meals. Samuel says, “I love cooking anyway and it’s one thing that I can do and have some positive impact when I can’t physically be here. There are not many things you can do while you’re away, to help. I don’t even question it.”
Just one parent travels
Melbourne-based travel writer, Catherine Best has taken six international and four domestic work trips so far this year. With three young children to organise before she travels, she says that preparation is always a juggle. She coordinates extra daycare for her three-year-old son and extra after school care for her daughters, eight and five.
While Catherine pre-cooks meals and calls on her mother in law for help while she’s away, she acknowledges that her trips do put a strain on her husband, Hayden, an IT training and product development manager, so she makes a concerted effort to give him some time out when she returns. She believes that it’s very important to be sympathetic to what her husband is going through while she’s away. “He’s been a single dad with three kids for a week, and he is needing a break,” she says.
Travel when you’re a single parent
Michael Feely is a widower with a busy career as Chief Operating Officer for Horizon Consumer Science, a small consultancy firm which does market research for global companies with retail travel divisions.
When his wife died eight years ago, Michael’s parents moved in with the family and have become integral to his daughters’ lives. His parents live separately now but they move back in whenever Michael needs to travel for work. He also arranges before and after school care and sets up playdates for the kids to give his parents a break. “Technology allows you to talk to your kids and family every day,” says Michael. “Depending on which time zone I’m in, I generally like to talk while they’re having breakfast, chat about what’s going on and see if there’s anything I need to help with.” Michael credits his parents with his work-travel success. “I’d be in major trouble without them.”
For many working parents, travel is an essential part of leaning in to the opportunities your career offers. Whether you ‘pack and go’ or prepare like a professional organiser for your journey, there’s no one correct way of managing the juggle of kids and work. Learn from others, engage in open conversations with your employer, partner, kids and carers, and do what works best for your family. Bon voyage!